“The appointment of an Ombudsman is only part of the task. We must ensure that the office is effective.” Those words were spoken by a national leader and staunch anticorruption advocate. In fact, the former head of the political opposition was one who fought aggressively for the operationalization of the office of the Ombudsman, a constitutional office that was non-functioning for more than seven years.
That same man and even members of his team spoke at length about the worrying findings coming from the two damning reports prepared by that office. They said that the reports show injustice, vindictiveness, grave wrong doing and the financial treachery of the PPP administration.
Twenty months later, many are disappointed that the David Granger administration has not taken a single action on those two damning reports, which were prepared by Justice Winston Moore, before he passed away September last. Moore was appointed to serve in that office by the Ramotar administration in January 2014.
One report deals with the issue of Kaieteur News columnist Freddie Kissoon being wrongfully dismissed from the University of Guyana.
Kissoon was on a contract with the University of Guyana but it was terminated by the tertiary institution in January 18, 2012. This was in spite of the fact that Kissoon’s contract had five months remaining, at the end of which, he would have reached the age of retirement.
Rather than the story that he was dismissed, the University had said that it merely ended the contract earlier, eight months before the contract expired. The contract stipulated that it could be terminated and three months’ salary paid in lieu of notice.
Kissoon did not hear from the University despite several efforts for a reason for why his contract was terminated prematurely.
Following a complaint lodged with the Office of the Ombudsman, UG was notified that the newspaper columnist’s contract being terminated in such a manner breached UG’s regulations. The report on the issue said that he should be compensated.
Since the Ombudsman made this pronouncement in January 6, 2015 no action has been by the institution to compensate Kissoon.
THE NBS REPORT
The late Ombudsman Moore had also ruled on another controversial matter relating to the New Building Society (NBS).
The Office of the Ombudsman concluded in November 2014 that police wrongfully charged the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and two of his managers of a massive $69M fraud at the New Building Society, in 2006.
The explosive document by the public complaint office was based on complaints by Maurice Arjoon, the former CEO. Arjoon, in his complaint, said he and two managers, Kissoon Baldeo, and Kent Vincent, were deliberately and maliciously charged by police for a $69M scam.
Arjoon said that he believed that the trumped-up fraud charges, later dismissed in the Magistrates’ Court, stemmed from his refusal to lend $2B for the construction of the Berbice River Bridge.
The former Government had been seeking financing for the project. Arjoon reportedly told his Board of Directors that the regulations barred the institution from lending that much. NBS voted to invest $350M in the project.
Arjoon claimed that his refusal to illegally lend the $2B angered former President Bharrat Jagdeo, who was in power at that time.
Arjoon, who has been insisting his innocence from day one, said in his complaints that over seven years were taken away from his life.
The late Justice Moore, who had sweeping powers to investigate abuse by public officers, hired former Deputy Commissioner of Police, Henry Chester, DSM, who, in reviewing a copy of the police files, found that based on the evidence, there was no way that the three men could have been charged. It was also found that the police files did not include a key exhibit.
Arjoon had filed a high court action to overturn the decision of NBS to dismiss him, saying that he lost his benefits as a result.
The explosive report raised serious questions about the rush by the police to lay charges; the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the role played by the Central Islamic Organization of Guyana.
Since the report was laid in the National Assembly, nothing has happened.
If no action on the reports of the Ombudsman is taken, then what is the point of having one? This sums up the position put forward by Presidential advisor on Sustainable Development, Dr. Clive Thomas.
He said that it has been over a year since the late Ombudsman, Winston Moore released two damning reports on various injustices which occurred under the People’s Progressive Party administration and no action has been taken by the institutions involved or the state.
Thomas emphasized that it is important for the findings and recommendations of Moore’s reports to be dealt with, as further procrastination would only serve to undermine efforts for good governance at various levels.
The Presidential Advisor said that the Ombudsman’s office is one that should be respected, and failure to act on his findings represents “total disregard for the people, for his office as well as the importance of ensuring justice is served.”
The nation’s Presidential Advisor on Sustainable Development says that this is just totally unacceptable and action should not be delayed any longer.
He emphasized that any democratic government practicing good governance would take the reports as an indication of the type of action that needs to be undertaken if it requires such by the state or institutions within the state.
The economist continued, “It is imperative that we pay attention and act expeditiously when the Ombudsman’s office highlights when injustices have occurred. The powerful principle upon which his office was established was to be the protector of the citizen’s rights. We have to ensure that his recommendations are enforced at all times and in whatever ways we can. We cannot appear to equivocate in the face of the rulings otherwise, what is the real purpose of his office and having him there?”
The Government had said that a new Ombudsman would be appointed on or before January 1. But it was amended to being done by March.
An Ombudsman is an official usually appointed by the government or by Parliament but with a significant degree of independence. One such official is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of maladministration or violation of rights.
The typical duties of an Ombudsman are to investigate complaints and attempt to resolve them. Ombudsmen in some instances, also aim to identify systemic issues leading to poor service or breaches of people’s rights.
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